The optics of the second coming of the March on Washington - the 50th anniversary of the 1963 march held on August 28, 2013 - were completely different: security concerns paramount after the assassinations of JFK, RFK, MLK and 9/11 meant that people were kept well away from the President and civil rights leaders. Another big difference: the sheer number of women. Women of accomplishment. Women of leadership.
Fifty years ago, not one woman addressed the 250,000 people who assembled in front of the Lincoln Memorial to hear calls for Jobs and Justice. At this second coming, there were a score of accomplished women in leadership positions who commanded the podium - union leaders, Congressmembers, women who have become cultural icons.
As Reverend Al Sharpton said, offering a measure of progress, "from Beulah to Oprah."
Oprah Winfrey, herself a symbol of progress for both African-Americans and women, of what people can accomplish when impediments to opportunity are lifted, declared from that podium, "This is an opportunity to assess.. to continue to honor the dream of a man and a movement who in his short life, saw suffering and injustice and chose not to look away. How will the dream live on? Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere. Not everyone can be famous but everyone can be great because greatness comes from service to others. Let freedom ring."
And giving the main speech before ringing the Freedom Bell and introducing President Barack Obama, Dr. Bernice King, Martin Luther King, Jr.'s youngest daughter, is the one who has taken up the torch from her father.
"Today we have been honored to have three presidents of the United States. Fifty years ago, the president did not attend. Today, we are honored to have many women in the planning and mobilization of the 50th anniversary of the march on Washington. Fifty years ago, there was not a single woman on the program. Today, we are honored to have not just one young person, but several young people on the program today. It is certainly a tribute to the work and the legacy of so many people that have gone on before us.
"Fifty years ago today in the symbolic shadow of this great emancipator, Abraham Lincoln, my father, the great liberator, stood in this very spot and declared to this nation his dream to let freedom ring, for all people who were being manacled by a system of segregation and discrimination. Fifty years ago he commissioned us to go back to our various cities, towns, hamlets, states and villages and let freedom ring.
"The reverberation of the sound of that freedom message has amplified and echoed since 1963 through the decades and coast to coast throughout this nation and even around the world. And has summoned us once again back to these hallowed grounds to send out a clarion call to let freedom ring. Since that time, as a result of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Fair Housing Act in 1968, we have witnessed great strides toward freedom for all, regardless of race, color, gender, religion, national origin, disability, class or sexual orientation.
"Fifty years later, in this year of jubilee, we're standing once again in the shadow of that great emancipator, having been summoned to these hallowed grounds to reverberate the message of that great liberator for there's a remnant from 1963, Congressman Lewis, Ambassador Young, that still remains, who has come to bequeath that message of freedom to a new generation of people who must now carry that message in their time, in their communities, amongst their tribes and amongst their nations of the world. We must keep the sound and the message of freedom and justice going.
"It was my mother, as has been said previously, Coretta Scott King, who, in fact, 30 years ago assembled a coalition of conscience that started us on this whole path of remembering the anniversary of the march on Washington. She reminded us that struggle is a never ending process. Freedom is never really won. You earn it and win it in every generation and so we come once again to let freedom ring because if freedom stops ringing, then the sound will disappear and the atmosphere will be charged with something else.
"Fifty years later, we come once again to this special landing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to reflect, to renew, and to rejuvenate for the continued struggle of freedom and justice. For today, 50 years later, my friends, we are still crippled by practices and policies steeped in racial pride, hatred and hostility. Some of which have us standing our ground rather than finding common ground. We are still chained by economic disparities, income and class inequalities and conditions of poverty for many of God's children around this nation and the world.
"We'll still bound by a cycle of civil unrest and inherent social biases in our nation and world that oftentimes degenerates into violence and destruction especially against women and children. We're at this landing and now we must break the cycle. The Prophet King spoke the vision. He made it plain and we must run with it in this generation, his prophetic vision and magnificent dream described the yearning of people all over the world to have the freedom to prosper in life.
"Which is the right to pursue one's aspirations, purpose, dreams, well- being, without oppressive, depressive, repressive practices, behaviors, laws and conditions that diminish one's dignity and that denies one life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The freedom to participate in government, which is the right to have a voice and a say in how you are represented, regulated, and governed without threats of tyranny, disenfranchisement, exclusionary tactics and behaviors.
"And to have freedom to peacefully co-exist, which is the right to be respected in one's selfhood, individuality, and uniqueness without fear of attack, assault or abuse. In 1967 my father asked a poignant and critical question. Where do we go from here, chaos or community? And we say with a resounding voice no to chaos and yes to community. If we're going to rid ourselves of the chaos, then we must make a necessary shift. Nothing is more tragic than for us to fail to achieve new attitudes and new mental outlooks.
"We have a tremendous and unprecedented opportunity to reset the very means by which we live, work and enjoy our lives. If we're going to continue the struggle of freedom and create true community, then we will have to be relentless in exposing, confronting and ridding ourselves of the mindset of pride and greed and selfishness and hate and lust and fear and idleness and lack of purpose and lack of love as my brother said, for our neighbor.
"We must seize this moment, the dawning of a new day, the emergence of a new generation. Who is postured to change the world through collaborative power, facilitate it by unconditional love and, as I close, I call upon my brother by the name of Neamaya who was in the midst of rebuilding a community, in the midst of rebuilding a community he brought the leaders and the rulers and the rest of the people together. And he told them that the work is great and large, and we are widely separated one from another on the wall.
"But when you hear the sound of the trumpet, and might I say when you hear the sound of the bell today, come to that spot, and our God will fight with us. And so today, we're going to let freedom ring all across this nation. We're going to let freedom ring everywhere we go. If freedom is going to ring in Libya, in Syria, in Egypt, in Florida, then we must reach across the table, feed each other and let freedom ring."
With that, she rang the bell, which was saved from the e Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, bomed by the Ku Klux Klan in 1963, killing four girls before Sunday services.
But there was a steady stream of women who have achieved the heights of power and are advancing the cause of equal opportunity and justice:
Donna Edwards, the first African American US Congressman from Maryland spoke of women's rights. "Wages, health care, safe communities, clean air and water, a just justice system, have our votes counted without interference. Today isn't just a celebration, but a call to action.
US Congresswoman Marcia Fudge (Ohio 11), who chairs the Congressional Black Caucus, noted that there were only five African-Americans in Congress in 1963, today there are 44. She might have also mentioned that today, a record 19% of Congressmembers and 20 US Senators are women - progress, but still a minority compared to the population, where women are in the majority.
Mary Kay Henry, President of the Service Employees International Union, spoke up for workers and a living wage.. "Work for a just society where all work is valued, where individuals, families can thrive, a better, more equal society."
Randy Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers, chided the Supreme Court for overturning a key part of the Voting Rights Act, reauthorized in 2006, saying, "The Supreme Court turned its back on voter suppression but if people are denied a vote. those who are born poor, stay poor; public schools where kids need the most, get the least."
Christine King Farris - Martin Luther King's sister - and the only living person who knew Martin as a baby - spoke of her "little brother" and said, "I didn't attend the 1963 march because I was home with the flu, but I watched on TV and was awestruck. This gathering is proof that Martin's dream will live on..... We aren't going to be defeated. We're going forward. Work to fulfill the dream goes on."
Karen Rubin, Long Island Populist Examiner
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